Equal pay for equal work was the focus of Monday's (Nov. 10) Sebastian County Quorum Court budget meeting. At issue were inequities in pay between county employees within the same pay grade.
Several different county-wide elected officials made requests of the court for specific individual pay raises, some which impacted only specific employees while other requests impacted groups of employees. The reasons for the requests was due to some employees with tenure and time on the job actually earning less than newer employees coming into similar positions.
According to County Human Resources Director Steve Hotz, the way newer employees have been able to come into positions earning more than some of the individuals they may be replacing or others in similar positions or pay grades due to budgets set for the positions.
"The filled positions are budgeted higher," he said. "The new person is hired from from a minimum to a mid-point not to exceed the budget. The budget (for the position) really monitors what people can be paid.”
In the case of an employee of the county clerk's office, an employee went to a more demanding job but received no pay raise even though the individual hired to replace the employee was paid a higher starting wage. Since the individual in the county clerk's office did not earn promotion but simply made a so-called lateral move, Hotz said the individual was not eligible for a raise, necessitating a request for about an $1,800 raise during Monday's meeting from the county clerk's office.
Another example shared by County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck, he said his chief deputy was making less than some of the deputies he supervises in the department. For that reason, Hollenbeck requested raises for the chief deputy and others in his office. In all, Hollenbeck requested $74,000 in raises, which were added to the proposed budget by a vote of the court.
As a result of the inequities between the positions in all departments across the county, Shawn Looper made a motion that was adopted by the court to have Hotz study all positions and the pay ranges across all positions in order to come up with a more fair and equitable pay structure.
Before the motion was approved, Hudson said without a study and followup action more issues would come up during the fiscal year 2016 budget cycle.
"We need minimum salaries for key positions," he said. "We've had several pay adjustments that you just dealt with. I think if we don't do something with out pay system here, you're going to see more of them next year. And we've had outside parties do studies. The recommendation is to do it in-house and hopefully conducted throughout the first six months, seven months of next year and presented mid-year in 2015.”
Hudson said countywide elected department heads "had a discussion along these lines at the job evaluation committee and there seemed to be a consensus that this is something that makes sense to do for the county elected officials and the three quorum court members that were in that discussion. Some more stable way of handling county pay, I think, is needed.”
In all, $120,000 in pay raises were approved for addition to the county budget, according to Hudson, though he said additional cuts could be needed in order to offset the pay raises coming from the county general fund.
"They weren't funded, so whenever we get to the plan to balance the budget if you're re-prioritizing the funds, then there'll be a tradeoff in where you're spending the money," he said.
Hudson said a 1% cost of living raise he had originally proposed totaled $114,000 and would likely be where he would target the “tradeoffs."
Discussions on the county budget continue at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday (Nov. 13) on the second floor of the county courthouse in Fort Smith. Hudson had previously said he hopes to have a budget ready for a vote following Thursday's meeting, though additional budget meetings are slated to take place should a budget proposal not come out of Thursday's meeting.